A/N: This is a collaboration with digipup.deviantart.com based on a roleplay we did.
Ulfric Stormcloak looked out his bedroom window at the morning sun, which peeked out from behind the clouds. A few snowflakes drifted from the sky, but all in all, it was a lovely day in Eastmarch. The Evening Star temperatures were frigid as usual, but after the events of two days ago, he knew it could be a lot worse.
Nilsine groaned behind him, and he turned away from the window and went to the bed, where he sat down next to her and brushed a lock of hair behind her ear. She had been ill for several days, and Ulfric worried for her well-being. “How do you feel?”
“Better,” his wife said. “I may be able to eat something.”
“I’ll call for Jorleif.”
“Is it still dark out?”
“No, the sun is up.”
She sat up and leaned in to kiss him with soft lips. “Then I’ll say ‘good morning.’ Ulfric, why did that happen?”
“I don’t know, my love. But I’m going to call for help.”
“How can she possibly help with this?”
“If anyone can, it’s Selene.”
He stepped outside the room and ordered the guard to send for his steward; then he went to his desk, took out a piece of good stationery, and wrote.
There has been a strange occurrence in Eastmarch, and I need your assistance. This is urgent; come as soon as you are able. I will explain further when you arrive.
High King of Skyrim
Ulfric reread the letter and considered making changes, uncertain how to pose a request like this. Summoning his beloved—no, favorite—operative was not unusual in and of itself, but it was for a reason such as this.
Skyrim was a dire, cold place; anyone would say so. It was frozen, bleak, and its crevices and cracks housed dangers at almost every turn. It was a good place to get lost if you wanted to die. But it was not without its softer points and hospitable nooks to make life livable. Even so, these nooks were few and far between, and natural blessings were rare. So when the greatest natural blessing of all—the sun—decided it simply didn’t like being in the sky anymore, Ulfric knew there were forces at work he didn’t—couldn’t—understand. Even his court mage was baffled.
Although he had managed to keep a cool head, Ulfric had been just as frightened as everyone else. After the crisis was over and his initial fear abated, however, the main thing he felt was irritation that the very sun would disappear and he couldn’t do anything about it. It irked him when things were out of his control, and at this stage in his life, nothing should have been. Skyrim was at peace; he had fulfilled his dream of becoming High King; and though he and Nilsine had had a bit of a rocky start, they were generally happy together. He still couldn’t say he loved her; but she was intelligent, good company, and she warmed his bed at night. He had grown quite fond of her, and that was enough. These days, they were trying for a child. He had most everything he had ever wanted, and if there was anything else he desired, it was instantly at his disposal.
But the sun was the ruler of the day, and day presided over all lands, from Morrowind to the Summerset Isles. And what was the day to do without a ruler? Be defeated by the night. And so it had. Darkness had shrouded the hold for hours, and the people just outside Ulfric’s door had practically gone mad with terror. Trade in the market had stopped, the streets were empty, and the houses were locked and silent. A few people had packed and left, and the guards were on edge. Fortunately, nothing had come of it and the light had returned, but the fact that the sun had even bothered to leave in the first place was enough to cause disquiet in Ulfric’s otherwise hardy soul. But how to convey all that to Selene in writing without sounding like a milk-drinking bard?
No, he thought, this letter is fine as it is. Better that I explain in person. He sealed it and gave it to Jorleif to send out post haste.
* * *
Selene Stormblade released a heavy sigh as she read Ulfric’s letter. She and Brynjolf had managed to live in peace for more than a year after they had returned from Solstheim. They had come home to Riften and taken the reins of the Thieves Guild back from Delvin and Vex, Rowan had been born, and they had settled into a happy, comfortable routine. But how long could that really last? She had been expecting something to happen anytime.
She took the letter to Brynjolf, who was sitting on their bed playing with the baby. A row of dolls was lined up on the bed, and Rowan was busy throwing them on the floor for Brynjolf to pick up, which he did every time. She had him well trained. Rowan was Dada’s little girl, and he took her everywhere he went. Well, they both did, really. They had thought when Selene had first become pregnant that they weren’t parent material, but having Rowan had certainly proven otherwise. Selene still worried about her, though. She had miscarried Rowan’s twin. Would she know? Would she grow up feeling out of place, as though something was missing? At times like this, watching her play with Brynjolf, Selene felt the loss of the other child so profoundly it made her chest hurt.
Brynjolf looked up. “What’s wrong?”
She strode over to the bed and handed him the note, then sat down. Rowan crawled in her lap and brushed her fiery red curls under Selene’s chin. “Ma ma ma ma ma ma ma!”
“It’s about time you started saying that, little one. I was getting tired of hearing ‘da da da da’ all the time.”
Brynjolf read the letter and shook his head. “Well, it lasted longer than I thought it would.”
“I don’t have to go.”
“Of course you do.”
“That’s it? No argument?”
“Well, he may not be my best friend, but he is High King. Besides, I see the look in your eye, Selene. You might not want to admit it, but you want to go. You’ve been restless, and this will be good for you. I think it would be best if I stayed here, though.”
Selene’s heart sank. She knew he was right; she could be heading into danger, and they couldn’t risk leaving Rowan without a parent. But that didn’t mean it would be easy. It was with a heavy heart that she packed and set out the next morning, kissing her husband and daughter goodbye.
Her first night on the road, Selene shifted to her beast form and hunted. She didn’t get to hunt enough these days; and the freedom from her daily concerns, the feel of the wind in her fur as she dashed after a deer, the taste of blood and meat as she devoured the animal, just the ability to howl, was intoxicating. The mountains themselves shook as she sang praises to the moons.
There were only three in the pack now. Athis had recently joined the Companions’ Inner Circle, and though Vilkas had tried desperately to talk him out of it, he had taken the blood as well. Though she had never hunted with him, she could feel his presence as strongly as she could Aela’s. But Vilkas had been cured of the beast blood long ago, and Farkas had cured himself a short while back when he had met his wife. He’d had a brief flirtation with Aela; but when Blanche, a lovely and mysterious Redguard, had joined the Companions and become a werewolf, he had fallen for her. They had cured themselves together and were now happily married and living in Windhelm in a house Selene and Brynjolf had given them as a wedding present. They had been in Solstheim at the time and hadn’t been able to attend the couple’s nuptials, so Selene had never actually met Blanche. She was planning to stop by for a visit while she was in Windhelm.
After three nights on the road, Selene arrived in Windhelm around noon to find it all but deserted. The stalls in the marketplace weren’t even open.
“What in Oblivion?” she muttered as she made her way through the empty streets to the Palace of the Kings.
“Glad you’re here, Stormblade,” said Olaf, the guard who let her into the locked palace. “The High King has been very anxious.”
“What is going on?”
“You’ll need to talk to him.”
Selene nodded and stepped through the door.
* * *
Ulfric was seated in his throne at a less leisurely angle than usual, exchanging low conversation with Galmar when Selene entered the palace.
“Well met, Stormblade,” Galmar huffed.
“Selene!” Ulfric was off his throne in a heartbeat. It took a good deal of effort for him to keep from being too enthusiastic, but he couldn’t resist taking her hand and touching it to his lips. “It’s good to see you.”
Selene squeezed his hand and pulled hers away. “It’s good to see you, too, Your Grace,” she replied uneasily, turning her eyes away. “Hello, Galmar. Now, tell me what is going on in the city. Where is everyone?”
Ulfric blinked, his hand left empty and his name replaced with something of a frigid title. “You promised to continue calling me Ulfric.”
“In private. In court, it’s Your Grace. We talked about this.”
“This is private.”
Selene looked around and realized that aside from Galmar they were alone. Jorleif was nowhere to be seen, and even the guards had retired to the far end of the hall. “All right,” she relented with a smile. “It’s good to see you, Ulfric. Now, where is everyone?”
Her warm smile only made things worse, and for a moment, he found he couldn’t speak. All he could think of was the way her sapphire eyes sparkled in the candlelight and how an errant wisp of her nearly black hair fell across her cheek. It had been short the last time he had seen her, but it was growing out now and fell alluringly to her shoulders. Would he ever get over this beautiful, amazing woman?
He quickly regained his composure with the help of a mental image of Nilsine and Galmar’s awkward cough behind him. “Hiding,” he replied, “as if the sun will fall out of the sky next. Gods know it might. . . . Have you ever seen the sun vanish, Selene?”
“I’ve seen eclipses, when one of the moons passed before it. But that’s not what you’re talking about, is it? You wouldn’t have sent for me for an astronomy lesson. You’re talking about the sun actually falling out of the sky. I have to admit that as a thief, I’m more comfortable when the sun isn’t in the sky, but eternal night? The implications of that are staggering. I don’t know if I’ll be able to help you, love. That’s some powerful magic. Then again, if it’s magic, there’s probably a mage involved, and I can handle mages.”
A fainter-hearted man would have melted perhaps when Selene called him “love.” Ulfric fortunately was devoid of that sort of weakness. Nonetheless, the offhand comment shed him a little joy, and he smiled briefly before drawing closer, his face turning grave. “Selene, this was no eclipse. The sun was swallowed. Engulfed. It turned red as blood, and darkness covered not just the city; reports tell me it covered the entire hold and stretched into a few neighboring ones. Eclipses don’t do that, and they also don’t last a full day.”
Selene stared at him for a few moments, trying to digest the information. “What on Nirn could swallow the sun? Then again, maybe it isn’t on Nirn. It almost sounds like the work of a Daedric Prince. I can think of one or two who might benefit from plunging the world into darkness. Then I have to wonder why it didn’t last and if it will even happen again.” She shrugged her shoulders helplessly. “Ulfric, I don’t even know where to start. Maybe Wuunferth. Have you talked to him? Or someone at the college.”
“Of course I’ve spoken to Wuunfurth!” Ulfric retorted. “He is just as much in the dark as I am—no pun intended. I’m inclined to think it originated in this hold, since the scouts report no such event in the others. And I believe the Thalmor have something to do with it.”
Selene rolled her eyes. “Ulfric, you always believe the Thalmor are responsible. You kicked them out of Skyrim the minute you became High King, and while I know as well as you do that they’re not going to go quietly, what could they possibly have to gain by destroying the sun?” She stopped and thought for a second. “That’s it,” she said softly. “Who would have the most to gain by blocking out the sun, by causing darkness to fall across the land?”
“Thieves,” Galmar barked.
“Is that an accusation, Galmar?” Selene teased. “I suppose it could be thieves. Maybe some rabid Nocturnal worshipers with a powerful mage at their disposal. But who else?”
Ulfric gave him a wry look. “This is serious, Galmar.”
Selene turned her head curiously, and Ulfric got the idea that although he thought the notion was ridiculous, she was actually considering the possibility. “Right, then. Well, the first thing I’ll do is head up to the College of Winterhold and see if they have any ideas. Failing that, I’ll go back to the Guild and see what I can turn up. I won’t rule out the Thalmor as a possibility, but let’s check some other avenues first.” She placed a hand on his arm and gazed into his eyes. “We’ll figure this out, Ulfric.”
He rested his hand over hers and squeezed a bit. “I didn’t think to ask before; how are Brynjolf and your baby?”
“Wonderful. Ulfric, she’s so beautiful, and she’s such a happy child. And I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy.” The comment stung, and Selene seemed to know instinctively because she immediately turned the conversation away from herself. “What about Nilsine? Is she well? Any babies on the horizon for the High King?”
He sighed. “None yet, but Nilsine has her hopes high.” He glanced over his shoulder and added in a low voice, “Galmar is going to be the honorary grandfather when the time comes.”
“No, I’m not!”
Ulfric laughed. “Like it or not, the child will need someone’s knee to sit on, and I doubt Wuunferth would appreciate the honor.” He turned back to Selene. “Take care of yourself, Selene. I would never forgive myself if I sent you to harm.”
“I’ll let you know what I find out.”